(last updated August 2020)
What has been happening in the health retailing sector
Demand for health foods and goods like alternative medicines vitamins and dietary supplements has generally risen over the last 20 years or more as people have become increasingly aware of the benefits of a healthy diet. Many busy workers take supplements to compensate for unhealthy hurried meals and older people take them to help with joint and muscle pain. Food safety and quality has also become a major selling point. Various food scares and scandals have prompted many people to think more about the quality and origin of the food they eat.
There has however been some negative publicity surrounding vitamin and supplement products in recent years as a number of studies have suggested that they have no health benefits and can even in some cases prove detrimental to health.
Growing concern about environmental matters in general has raised demand for eco-friendly products of all types. The second half of the 2000s and early 2010s saw greater awareness of 'food miles' - the distance that food has traveled from its country of origin. Ethical issues like animal welfare and fair-trade practices have also become considerations for many shoppers. All of this means fairly solid demand for many of the goods associated with health shops.
As demand has increased however supermarkets and other mainstream shops such as general grocery stores and chemists have started selling a range of health goods including vegetarian food organic produce fair-trade products vitamins minerals and medicines. So even though independent health shops have a larger potential market than ever before they face much more competition particularly from supermarkets' price wars and cheaper own-brand versions.
Unfortunately the economy took a downturn during the late 2000s and stayed very weak during the early 2010s. People were forced to cut back on spending and among the first things they cut back on were non-essentials like health foods and organics. Things did start to improve again during 2013 though and 2014 was a much better year.
The economic recovery continued during the first half of 2015 but slowed in the second half and into the beginning of 2016. Consumers remain cost conscious and are increasingly choosing to order vitamin supplements and health foods online or buy from discount stores. Demand is also growing for free-from products and for ranges aimed at specific groups like people over 50 or sportspeople.
The last few years have seen the health supplements industry under threat from EU legislation. Several pieces of legislation have reduced greatly the range of supplements available while others outlaw many high dosage preparations and put natural remedies and preparations into the same regulatory regime as medicines. The industry has fought and continues to fight against restrictive legislation. Two campaign groups the Alliance for Natural Health International and Consumers for Health Choice have been set up to lobby for the industry and try to overturn or modify the legislation.
The Department of Health (DoH) provides a summary of the current legislation relating to the sale of food supplements. You can read the summary on the Gov.uk website.
Keeping up to date with the health shop sector
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your trade.
The National Association of Health Stores (NAHS) represents the interests of health shops in the UK. It lobbies on legislative matters affecting the health food sector and arranges special deals for members on shop equipment and insurance services. You can visit the NAHS website for more information.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another excellent way of staying up to date. Useful trade journals include:
- Natural Products
- Health Food Business
You can find out more about subscribing to these magazines on their websites.
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade fair. You will be able to meet manufacturer's suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. Information about forthcoming trade shows can be found on the exhibition's website. Trade shows for the health retailing industry include Natural and Organic Products Europe.